Battle of the Atom, the 2013 X-Men event crossover, will see All-New X-Men, X-Men, Uncanny X-Men and Wolverine & the X-Men tell a story in which the current X-Men have to deal with past versions of themselves – and, uh, also future versions of themselves.
Over the next few months, I’ll be tracking the story with each issue and keeping score on how well the storyline is going.
There will be spoilers below! Although, really, you’re not going to understand what I’m talking about unless you’ve read the issue first.
All New X-Men #16 is by Brian Michael Bendis, Stuart Immonen, Wade Von Grawbadger, Marte Gracia, and Cory Petit
Boy oh boy, telepathy was just MADE for Brian Michael Bendis, wasn’t it? This second chapter of the crossover features a bounty of telepathic double-talk, allowing the writer to offer second and third takes on each situation as they occur in the story.
It’s also a step up from the first chapter, which was designed mainly to get people up to speed on the All-New and Uncanny X-Men teams. Here we finally get to see a wider section of the X-Men in action, as more and more teams start to pile up on each other. But, if there’s any artist able to handle twenty-thirty people in a scene, it’s Stuart Immonen. Immonen steals the issue with his work, giving each character a ‘pop’ from their background, assisted by some careful and bold inking from Wade Von Grawbadger.
Von Grawbadger’s work with Immonen doesn’t get talked enough as much as it should, really – although Immonen’s pencilling is fantastic, it’s Von Grawbadger who gives the characters that feeling of satisfying chunkiness – they feel solid and bounce off each page. He gives them chunky outlines when he needs them to take the foreground and thins down the aspect for characters like Iceman – establishing the different body types and mannerisms of the characters. He’s a perfect fit for the X-Men.
And what a lot of X-Men there are in this issue! This time we have a brief check-in with Cyclops and his Uncanny team, whilst most of the issue focuses in on a three-team drama in which several characters pick an individual side. The main set-piece here is a telepathic sequence taken fairly shamelessly straight from the pages of Joss Whedon’s Astonishing X-Men run, as a lengthy discussion and fight are then replayed from a telepathic aspect.
At first it seems like there’s a single discussion going on until Bendis rewinds and replays the scene from Jean Grey’s perspective – revealing that the whole time she’s been telepathically talking to other people in the room, changing the context of the sequence entirely. Whedon held onto this surprise for a few issues, but Bendis establishes and switches the sequence almost immediately. It’s a faster-pace and allows to create a quick, useful conflict between the characters without having to resort to a one-dimensional fight sequence.
It’s pretty obvious that Bendis has been hankering to do this sort of thing for a while, as his All-New X-Men prior to this issue has been full of telepathic tics and quirks. When writing quickfire dialogue, Bendis is hampered by the fact his characters can only say so many words on a panel, within their one motion. Removing that obstacle by writing out thoughts means he can fill each page with as much text as he likes, coating each sequence with side-commentary and exposition.
This is a dream come true for him, you can tell. Luckily the creative team also have the advantage of a few well-planned surprises. The future X-Men team contains one of them, although it’s not quite the surprise you might think it to be. If I can go into an extended analysis of aging, you can see that the Future X-Men team are all around 40 years older than the present day team. With that in mind, the reveal of Jean is not one which returns the version last seen in the hands of Morrison/Pak. Rather, this is the teenage version of Jean, if she stays in the present and ages normally.
Jean’s unveiling is a clever twist for the story, but it also serves to hide what is possibly a more important thing – there’s no future version of Cyclops or Angel amongst the Future X-Men team. Jean is just a distraction from the fact that Bendis has something in mind for his Uncanny X-Men team, and it’s the biggest hook of the issue.
We do check in on that team here, as they recover from Cyclops’ death-experience in the prologue. Interestingly, the story hasn’t bothered to identify any of these characters aside from Cyclops himself. The book relies on readers already knowing who all the new characters are, and that Emma Frost is now wearing the generic suit which Chris Bachalo gives every female character. After finally nailing down one trailing part of time travel – Marvel have by now changed the rules of time travel every year for the past fifty years – that team gets a motivation for their next few issues.
That’s a canny trick, isn’t it? Last issue defined the motivation for the team, but Bendis cut away from the scene before actually telling that to the reader. Instead he pops the aftermath scene into this new issue, therefore quickly giving readers a one-issue wait before confirming that, yes, they are all now worried about the new development from before.
Speaking of how efficiently the issue manages to bring in the other books – Rachel Grey has a very brief, but massively substantial, appearance. She runs in after the fight and does EXACTLY what the reader wants her to, and rounds on the new Xorn. Brian Wood’s X-Men have still not appeared as a team, but they are now set up through Rachel’s one-panel outburst and a single dialogue-free reaction panel from Storm. Two words from Jean, and suddenly the next issue has a purpose as well. That’s a remarkably effective use of a page!
That’s what comes across most strongly in the issue. It’s quick and economical. We still haven’t had much beyond Brian Michael Bendis setting up the pieces of the story… but it FEELS like a lot more than that. There’s an effective use of panel-time here which Avengers readers will look upon enviously. Having telepaths present in each issue means Bendis can write overextended thought bubbles for characters – but it also means he can no longer waste the characters’ time. He can’t have character lie to each other, because there are now four or five telepaths around who will call that out.
With the story so far stuck in a room filled with X-Men (there’s still no sign of a villain, unless you count the DJ who makes a TOTALLY UNCALLED FOR dig at Dazzler’s career), the narrative finally has had to force itself forwards, creating some dramatic momentum for Brian Wood to dig into as we head to chapter 3 of the crossover.
More to come…